And so it begins… The 2018 season of fiery festivals got under way in Scalloway this morning as Leslie-Wills Setrice rallied his troops for the big day ahead.
This year’s Jarl was smiling from ear to ear as his squad assembled at the village boating club to enjoy some refreshments.
The squad were just the picture in their impressive-looking suits – complete with authentic reindeer skins, no less, and silver kirtles.
Leslie-Wills, who works for Loganair at Sumburgh, has waited for this day for a long time. He said it was an honour to represent the village he calls home.
“Apart from it being the first of the festivals to kickstart the year, it is kind of special,” he told The Shetland Times.
“I’ve been born and bred in Scalloway, so it means quite a lot. It’s an honour to actually represent Scalloway.”
Much of the focus, of course, will be on tonight, and on the burning of the galley Jormungandr – but the morning still had a busy schedule, with visits planned to the youth centre, the the Walter and Joan Gray care home and schools in Scalloway, Tingwall and Hamnavoe – and plenty more besides.
“We’ve got a lot of places we have to visit, to show off all our gear,” he said.
“We’ve got reindeer skins for our backs. Our kirtles were made from two lasses in Lerwick – Christine Sinclair and Carol Flaws – and they’ve done an excellent job.”
He said the fellow squad members were looking forward to the day ahead as well.
“I just hope everybody has a good time and gets entertained.”
One of those taking his part in the Jarl’s squad is Niall Holmes. Originally from Ireland, he said he was “really looking forward to it. It’ll be a good experience.”
He added he had enjoyed telling his folks back home in Ireland about his escapades with the squad.
“They’re really intrigued about the whole thing,” he said.
Another excited member of the Jarl’s Squad was Alan Davidson. He described the experience as both “brilliant” and “surreal”.
With three kids on tow – Sophie, Lewis and Jack – he highlighted an unmistakable truth about this year’s Scalloway Fire Festival, and that was the number of young children taking part. Over a dozen youngsters are listed in the official programme.
“It’s excellent to be here. It certainly is going to be busy, especially looking after three young ones,” Mr Davidson said.
Three-year-old Jack Davidson said he was enjoying being dressed as a Viking and was looking forward to singing the Up-Helly-A’ song.
Joe Haugh, 10, was in attendance with his sister Shannon. The Scalloway Primary school pupil said he was “so excited” about the day ahead.
“I’m really excited and I hope it goes well,” he said, adding he hoped the weather would hold up.
He was pleased to see plenty of other youngsters in attendance.
“I’m happy I’m not alone,” he said.
The weather outside was cold, to say the least, but the squad managed to overcome an initial reticence to find their singing voice on the march along the Port Arthur road.
There were brief stops outside the Malakoff and the care home, as the galley let out puffs of smoke for the benefit of the cameras before being led to the youth centre.
There, plenty of crowds had gathered round to see what was taking place.
Former Jarl Kenny Grant was impressed with what he saw. He led the procession in 2014, and remembered well the experience.
“I’m quite impressed by the Jarl’s Squad this year. They’re looking fantastic. Every year they come with some new ideas or a new look. I see they’ve got deer-skins on the boots, which looks really nice.
“Our squad’s all set tonight so I’m looking forward to a good carry-on.”
Murial Cheyne had come to see her son, Andrew, play his part in the squad. She was impressed by the suits and was looking forward to enjoying some of the highlights of the day.
“The outfits are really nice. We go to the boating club in the afternoon,” she said.
For Graham Hughson it was a family affair, with both his son Clive and granddaughter Hari Lou in the squad.
“This is good. It brings out the bairns from the school, and you get the Hame fae Hame ones as well.”
He welcomed the high number of youngsters taking part.
“It’s good because it gets them involved with it. With them being brought up with it, then they’ll be interested as well. So it keeps the fire festival going.
“It’s a brilliant suit that they’ve got this year and the helmets as well are really, really good. It’s just splendid.”